January 6, 2023
A red-breasted nuthatch, among other great birds, stopped by for the holidays

By Mary Reid Barrow

The ground was crackling underfoot, the wind was frigid, the bird bath was icy and ever so many birds were unexpected dinner guests over the holidays!

My good photographer son, who took these photos, and I were riveted to the feeder during the deep freeze.  I first saw two hummingbirds literally pounding the frozen feeder as though their beaks were ice picks.  In addition to these two, we had all the yard bird regulars, along with woodpeckers, white-breasted and brown headed nuthatches, juncos and pine warblers, among others.

The hummingbirds were a big surprise, and we managed to get them through the weekend by changing the slushy feeder in and out from dawn to dusk.

But most exciting was a red-breasted nuthatch that arrived, out of the blue, sashaying down the sassafras tree trunk to the feeder.

These petit birds with their cute nasal “ank, ank” call that you can’t miss, don’t visit every year.  They are short distance migrators leaving home mainly when conifer trees in their more mountainous habitat don’t produce enough seed-filled cones to their liking.

When the red-breasted nuthatches come, they love my great big pine tree with all its cones, but they also are more than satisfied with the easy pickings of good old peanuts from the feeder.

Red-breasted nuthatches often cache their food in tree holes.  That made me wonder if my visitor in the photo below was thinking about adopting the hole in my sassafras tree as its storage unit. But I never did actually see what it did with the nut.

Still, it sure was a big bite for a little bird.  I have read they take large nuts from feeders and carry them to a tree where they cut them down to size with their beaks.  It stands to reason that what’s left over is food for the cache.

Red-breasted nuthatches also look for insects or seeds under the bark as they travel along a tree trunk.  Notice in the top photo that the nuthatch has a talon on the back of each foot. That rear talon is what allows the little bird to travel upside down, down the tree checking for insects along the way and never missing a beat.

Maybe insect hunting was not all that little bird was doing on my tree trunk.  On that cold winter morning, it felt like she was just sashaying in to wish us happy holidays!


Photos by Gibbs Barrow

Reach Mary Reid at


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